Cloudscapes and thoughtscapes

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Cornbread muffins are cooling on the counter and the smell feels like a blanket. It’s early for a Saturday night but I feel exhausted in more ways than one.

We made pizzas last night and I have finessed two more cover letters to a point where I feel like they communicate what I want: That I’m capable and kind. At this point, it feels like a task that will never end. When will I wake up at 7am to get ready to go to work again? When will I have coworkers? When will that quiet assurance of a paycheck coming into my hands happen?

On Monday I worked for a day for a temp agency, filling in an admin position in an office for the day. It felt good to pack a lunch and spend a day at a desk pretending I knew what I was doing. Poor pay but damn, it felt right to be working again. I’ve been working since I was fifteen, after all.

Life is not just that limbo of unemployment, though it can feel like it. We finally had rain, steady rain that gently soaked everything around it. It was cold and we turned on the heat in our home for the first time since we moved here almost four months ago. I have found a place near our house full of locals who tell each other great stories in the booths there. I have heard men discuss the abstract art market, how to properly care for cattle, the benefits of tea over coffee, and other conversational snippets that are lovely to hear. This week I devoured The Picture of Dorian Gray finally, after having a copy in the house for a month or two now. It was brilliant and sassy and everything Wilde means to me. I have always loved the audacity that Wilde writes with, the sheer wit and breakneck pace of conversation about seemingly useless things driving you to turn each page faster and faster. The ending was brilliant, the book was horrifying, and the dense description was fantastic.

Anyway, here are some clouds I photographed on film from the plane that took me to Victoria about a month ago. The sunset was the most incredible I’ve ever seen, and the clouds and sky were beyond words.

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Escaping Hell to go fishing.

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We woke to the acrid smell of smoke invading our noses and our home. It wasn’t even 8am, and we had been up late. I couldn’t sleep any longer, as the smell was overwhelming and prevented me from feeling as though I could do anything but move to avoid it. Looking up the air quality, it was confirmed that heavy winds had brought forth a proliferation of smoke from all the hundreds of thousands of acres that are on fire in Northwestern Montana.

My home is burning. My home is evacuated, desperate, bone dry, frustrated, and suffering. We all breathe the smokey air, feel the headaches, and many of us get spontaneous bleeding noses and can’t sleep. We feel lethargic and every morning look out the window to see if anything has changed. Some days I can see the closest mountains, but most they are a mere outline, more like a mirage or a memory than the sturdy landmarks that they are.

Logan and I spent the morning nestled in a coffee shop reading and having a good chat. We went home and couldn’t stand the oppressive smoke. If we were going to suffer, by God, we were going to do it outside our claustrophobic town. Logan packed his fishing rod, I packed my camera, and we drove Jarvis to the highway to escape the shit.

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While Logan fished, I explored. We listened the the gurgle of the river, and didn’t talk much. There was nothing to say that nature wasn’t whispering to us. I could feel both of us grow more relaxed and atuned to things. The smoke wasn’t quite as bad out here, and hearing the wind rustle the grasses and the hum of bees and the gentle whoosh of the river moving over rocks as it has always done I felt like my mind could finally shut the fuck up.

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I eventually found myself looking for animals. We had seen lots of bear scat on the side of the road, full of berry seeds, and I was glad we brought the bear spray. Along the river beds I found lots of tracks, of dogs that fishermen brought, of deer, of raccoons, and of birds. Insects skated along the tops of little ponds near the river. The amount of shallow, still water and rocks made me sure that snakes and frogs were nearby. As a child, Jeff Corwin was my first crush, and I grew up watching him wrangle snakes, catch critters, and be outside. I wanted to be a snake venom researcher when I was little and much of my life I have loved all reptiles, amphibians, and arachnids. They are integral parts of our ecosystem, often environmental indicators, and really damn cool. So when I spotted a leopard frog sitting in one of the ponds, I quietly walked over and tried to catch it. It got away, aided by the thick amounts of algae, and I waited and tried to catch the poor creature again. I failed again and then left him alone to live out his days doing his thing, as stressing out wild animals is really not my gig.

We were getting ready to leave after our brief time in nature when Logan yelled that he found a snake! I put my camera down and went and grabbed this little healthy garter snake with bright yellow stripes! Of course the creature proceeded to pee on me- as many reptiles and amphibians do, because would you want to eat something that stank and tasted like urine? I let the little guy go quickly, but holding him and feeling his smooth skin was so neat. He darted into his rock home and I washed my hands and arms in the river. Logan fished a bit more, and I wandered into a grove of common tansy (an invasive species) and let the sound of bees wash over me. Having recently learned that there are 56 species of bumblebees in Montana, I wondered how many kinds were flitting among the flowers. 36226124953_55de839f2a_c36226128603_61333cc24e_c36226123263_eeecc33c84_c36637201010_41a0a62915_c

I am a Master (of the Arts)!

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I defended my thesis on August 25, 2017, in Victoria. My defense happened in a bland classroom, with my friends and family present while my thesis supervisor, my co-supervisor, and my external examiner asked me questions varying from fun to dreadfully difficult.

But I DID IT! I defended my thesis! 

27,000 words.

97 pages.

18+ months of research, writing, editing, tears, questions, failings, and early mornings in coffee shops trying to tap into my best historian.

Getting an M.A. was not easy. The last two years I was lonelier, more anxious, more stressed, and more unsure of myself than I have ever been. My degree was full of welcoming, warm people that I still struggled to connect with. I had mental health issues that required therapy, long walks, and acceptance of the situation at hand.

One of the most darkly hilarious moments occurred in my first semester. I was living alone in a wicked apartment, but couldn’t find a reason to leave it. One day, after emerging outside after three days cooped in, I realized that I had no friends in town and that the only way anybody would know I had died would be only after my body began to stink up the building. Shit, I thought, it’s time to make some fucking friends. 

I wasn’t dating Logan yet when I began my degree, but he came to be a huge influence on keeping my head above water, as we both experienced our own struggles and cheered each other on. I also spent hours by the ocean and in the Ross Bay Cemetery, lingering in quiet places where the world continued to go on without me. This might seem scary to some, but I found the rhythm of natural things comforting. It wasn’t necessary for me to read the whole 400 page book I was assigned in a week to still see the leaves change, to smell the rainy mornings, to hold a cup of hot coffee and appreciate it. I learned how to temper the pressure of the degree, with it’s vicious pace and difficult, open-ended questions, with my own pace.

Perhaps the most important thing I learned, apart from how to write, edit, research, and be a more thorough historian, was how to be alone and utterly at peace with my solo existence. I loved being alone, as it allowed me a certain degree of anonymity. I could sit with a book at a cafe and hear the grizzled old dudes at the table next to me make fun of Trump, or go on a long walk and pet dogs as they came up to me in the dog park. I wasn’t anybody important and I wasn’t threatening. I could merely be. That was honestly the best.

Now, I am back in Missoula, surrounded by smoke from the wildfires and looking for work. But, I can do it knowing I have accomplished something that was terrifying, challenging, and exhilarating! It feels so good.

My favorite food & coffee places in Victoria.

Hey y’all. I’m in mourning already for Victoria’s food and drink options, so I’ve decided to compile a list of my favorite places to grab a bite or a coffee! I want to do another for my favorite bars/nightlife places, so stay tuned! If you’re in Victoria, check these places out. I mostly lived on a really tight budget so the places noted below are mostly for those who can’t afford a fancy meal. Enjoy the pictures too! I don’t have pictures of every place but almost.

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PHO VY on Fort

This pho place, nestled in between a bunch of small shops on Fort Street, serves up amazing pho, bun, and other Vietnamese goods in a no-frills manner that I love. It’s a cash only place that has great windows for people watching and TVs that regularly show weird game shows and maybe an old X-Men movie or two. Fancy? No. Cheap? Yes. Delicious? Oh my god. This is my favorite place to come when I feel off, need a pick-me-up, or want to take visitors. Everybody who has visited me has been taken here, without exception. My loyalty and love for Pho Vy will never die. As a Montanan who comes from a pho-free land, being able to have cheap pho whenever I wanted was my definition of being spoiled.

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CRUST BAKERY on Fort

Literally down the street from Pho Vy, this bakery is tiny, with almost no seating, but has some of the most delectable pastries and other gluten filled goods I’ve ever had. Their sour cherry pastries are incredible, the ham tomato basil croissant a fucking work of art, and even just their regular croissants are a messy, buttery, legit ode to what butter and flour do together. I love going here after an early morning walk and grabbing something on my final trek home, or getting a croissant to eat later when I’m too lazy to eat real meals.

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DISCOVERY COFFEE on Blanshard

There are multiple branches of Discovery Coffee, a Victoria BC staple, but I was lucky enough to live near the newest branch on Blanshard St. I went there 3-4 days of the week, usually around 7am, and sat in the same seat every day. The baristas got to know me, and they were super friendly. I love their cortado, and they have great cornbread and doughnuts brought in daily from local bakeries. The atmosphere is awesome- lots of locals stopping in every day, people reading, business meetings, etc. and the vibe was excellent. I can say I got about 65-75% of my best writing done at that little place early in the morning before most people are up and busy.

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HABIT COFFEE on Pandora

Habit Coffee has no Wifi, as they’ll sometimes tell you with a little more sass than necessary. That being said, they have good coffee and the downtown Pandora branch has great art, lighting, and atmosphere. I loved going in and perusing their awesome selection of magazines to read, and spent many a rainy gloomy morning tucked in there writing in my diary, writing postcards, or devouring books.

 

FERRIS OYSTER BAR on Yates

This place serves up amazing oysters in multiple varieties, makes a wicked sidecar and Negroni, and they know what they’re doing with seafood and pasta. I recommend making a reservation. The prices are steeper (think $20-30 per entree) but the food is always excellent. I’ve been there exactly three times and it has always been such a great place to take family or friends when we’re feeling fancy.

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BEAVERTAIL STAND on Broughton

Is this a chain? Yes. Is it legitimately Canadian? Up for debate (my Calgarian friend noted that the first time she had a Beavertail it was at Epcot in Florida…) but damn, fried dough with delicious toppings and wicked gelato on the cheap will always be on my menu. The guy who runs the Beavertail stand in Victoria is also one of the nicest guys- he is always down for a joke or a small chat, and he will gladly cut a Beavertail in half for anybody who can’t handle a whole one (seriously though why would you not eat a whole one, they’re amazing!). My favorite is the Beavertail with Nutella or the Skor toppings.

SUSHI FIELD off Fairfield

Sushi Field is my little secret place in Victoria that is entirely underrated because it’s a bare bones sushi place in a strip mall near the ocean. But, dude, I can tell you that the best sushi I’ve had has consistently come from places like this- where it’s not fancy, dark, or sleek, but where the food speaks more than the setting. I love their sashimi (oh my god the salmon!) and the maki rolls are amazing. The food is all made in house, even the salad dressing, and you can tell that the quality is high as soon as you taste it. The sushi is also dirt cheap and it’s off the downtown/tourist track so it’s rarely full. Also, if you’re looking for a cheap date idea, get some sushi to go, walk through the graveyard (I find them romantic), and settle down by the nearby beach for a lovely picnic!

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LITTLE JUMBO on Fort

This little tucked back restaurant on Fort offers super cozy dining with wicked food options. I ate there with Ella when she visited and I was so, so happy. Eating is my favorite hobby after taking naps, and Little Jumbo has amazing dishes (hello duck!) that hit the spot. At about the same price point as Ferris, this is a place you’d take a date or a family for a celebration, but super worth it.

LA TANA BAKERY at Fan Tan Alley

This tiny little bakery, tucked underground right near the entrance to Fan Tan Alley on Pandora, is run by a Milanese man, Claudio. Claudio can be found regularly speaking Italian in the kitchen while churning out delicious pastries and bread goods (one of his staff noted, “I don’t understand what he’s saying about 90% of the time”). The farinatas are amazing, the fagottini is delicious, and the bread stares at you from the walls with beautiful color and smells. After living in southern Switzerland, only an hour from where Claudio hails, I can tell you that this place is as Italian as they come- and it felt so good to find a little place that felt so familiar to where I was living in college. There’s also coffee! On top of this, I love La Tana because they compost and recycle and make sure that they have almost no carbon footprint. Woo!

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CAFFE FANTASTICO on Humboldt (In the Parkside Hotel)

This little cafe serves local wine, beer, coffee, and little dishes. I love it for the location and the cozy corners- it was so close to my apartment, and a great place to settle in and peruse a book and sip a good latte. Located inside the posh Parkside Hotel, the bathrooms there are also A+ (yes I take this into consideration!) because they’re in the hotel lobby. They have good little breakfast bites, like egg sandwiches and bagels, and the prices are super fair. Caffe Fantastico has three branches around Victoria, each with their own vibe/specialty, and this one is the sort of cafe branch. The others are larger, with more lighting and food options, but this one had the exact sort of vibe for a rainy morning where I could escape my apartment and take a stroll and smell the outside world without having to trek.

Before the defense

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Last week I went to an interview for a job I thought was going to be awesome but it ended up being not at all what I thought. Halfway through the interview, I was asked, “what is your biggest accomplishment?” and I paused. My thesis. My beautiful, eloquent, hard worked thesis. I knew then that this interview was a waste of my time and my interviewer’s. I called later to have them take my name off of a list. I cried when I got home to Logan, knowing that I wanted more. That aching compulsion to be pushing myself made my stomach feel queasy and I sobbed, harder than I should have.

I defended that beautiful thesis last Friday and I did well. I did better than well. I managed to answer every question, even the odd ones, and I left feeling a mix of elation and exhaustion. Hibernation sounded amazing- wake up three months later, as winter comes, and shake the cobwebs off my eyes and start over. But here I am, and it is Monday, and life continues. Except, now I am a Master of the Arts. I can put an obnoxious, little “M.A.” next to my name in email signatures if I choose (I think I will not do this).

Anyway, here are some film photographs from the last two weeks. A quick day trip to Kalispell for ice cream, used books, and terrible sushi. A fiery sunset that my film failed to capture in all it’s glory (but can a camera ever really properly do a great sunset justice?). A few moments lingering on the side of the road with Logan, surrounded by smoke and fire, watching the end of another day. Sunflowers all abloom in my parent’s yard, quietly exuding beauty without knowing it. I am trying, almost desperately, to make moments that will create the idea of a summer that has not, thus far, been fraught with a cocktail of stress, tears, and anxiety that has been almost uncontrollable. If that leaks out into this blog a lot, I cannot help it. But damn, y’all, it’s also been such a good summer. We moved into a house, had some irises bloom that were heartbreakingly beautiful and fleeting, we traveled to San Francisco, I’ve gotten to see friends I haven’t seen in months and years, and life is mostly good. There’s money for food, a roof over our head, and I’m lucky enough to be on Medicaid while I look for work.

What do you guys do to deal with stress and do self care? I’ve always been really good about it but not being able to be outside due to the smoke has made that harder.

Chocolate before dinner.

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It’s been awhile, eh? I am nibbling on some honeycomb covered in chocolate before we make dinner…oops.

In three days I head to Victoria to defend my Master’s thesis (!!!) but this last week has been something from Hell. I got really, really sick, had two job interviews which didn’t pan out (always a bit of a bummer), and generally loafed, hacked, and worked my way through the week the best I could. The smoke here has been dreadful- we aren’t supposed to be outside for too long, it’s so dense! They’ve got almost 700 firefighters from all over the country here to battle the Lolo fire in Missoula.

Besides fire and a bit of immune system failure I did bake some amazing blackberry pastries using a recipe from The Little Epicurean!  (Click through for the recipe!) We ate them up before I thought to make some pictures. Next time!

I also finished The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman. An exquisite, sensitive, multi-layered book about the meeting of two cultures through the lens of an epileptic Hmong girl. If it sounds strange, fall into the pages. It’s a sad, extraordinary, determined story. Now I am reading Steven Johnson’s The Ghost Map, which is about London’s cholera epidemic. I love medical history and stories about cities and this intertwines both. Again, if you ever feel ungrateful for modern medicine, go read something like this! You’ll be so glad that you’ve got anesthesia that isn’t ether or chloroform or cocaine! (Or a cocktail of the three!)

Anyway, these photographs are from a few weeks ago. Lovely Chelsea visited, Logan and I went to a diner, and I’ve been admiring the beautiful green plums that are on our little trees in the yard. One determined squirrel has been pilfering them, but we’ve had a host of birds, including a northern flicker, in our yard lately, and it’s been so lovely to see them! I like sitting quietly on the porch watching them flit and fly around. Birds really are so neat.

 

Blackberry pie: The South meets Montana.

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Hey y’all! In the midst of it all, I made a blackberry pie! When we moved into our home I found a tangled bush/vine monster that was climbing up the back shed, and I suspected it would have blackberries. Sure enough, it did! Apparently, blackberry pie is a very Southern thing, which I did not know (my grandma is from Texas but hot damn is that the South? Or is Texas it’s own thing? I suspect the latter!) Anyway, I got to pick blackberries and take them into my kitchen literally just a few feet away! Some of them were small, other blackberries were as big as half my thumb and heavy as hell! Unfortunately there are lots of wasps hanging about (I loathe them), probably because I haven’t sprayed the three or four tiny new nests that have sprung up since we moved in. Ugh.

Now, here’s the truth: My pie didn’t turn out that aesthetically pleasing. I know that whoever reads this is probably more used to the gorgeous baking and cooking images that lace our everyday Instagram and Facebook feeds, but this pie is GENUINE! It was made with love and it tastes GREAT! Screw using all the props and the nice marble countertops if you don’t have them, because food is made for eating as well as visual enjoyment. So yes, my pie is ugly. My lattice work is hideous. But my taste buds and stomach are happy. 🙂

Having never made a blackberry pie, I searched the internet and used an excellent recipe from The Country Contessa My one change to her recipe would be that if your blackberries are juicy, your pie is going to be super juicy too- mine literally is standing in about 1/2 inch of delicious blackberry juices, which I plan to save. If you want a more firm pie, I’d increase the flour a tiny bit (something less than another 1/4 cup) and probably add a tiny pinch or two of corn starch. Rhubarb pie recipes have you lay down a sugar/flour mix at the bottom to soak up some of the juice, and you could give that a try if you wanted to. If you choose to use cornstarch, be really careful, as it can overwhelm the taste of your fruit (I did that to a raspberry pie about two years ago and still regret it). I know that baking is something close to an exact science but when you’re working with quality pie dough and good fruit I feel like there is more leeway.

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Ingredients (from recipe by the Country Contessa)

  • Dough for a double crust pie
  • 6 cups of blackberries
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 of a lemon’s juice (I used a lime!) 
  • 2 tablespoons cold butter
  • 1 tablespoon beaten egg mixed with 1 tablespoon water (I never do a wash on my pies, that’s just me!) 

Roll out your bottom crust and lay in the bottom of your pie tin. Punch small holes in the bottom with your fork. This helps lessen the chance of burning or overcooking the bottom of your pie.

Mix together blackberries, sugar, flour, salt, and lemon juice. Put the mixture in your pie tin with the bottom crust laid out. Then, roll out the top crust. You can fold it in half and place on top and unfold, or do a lattice pie, or do whatever you damn please! It’s going to taste great.

Bake at 350F for 50-55 minutes. Remember to put tin foil or a pie plate protector on the edges so that the crust doesn’t cook faster than the rest of the pie dough!

Remove, let cool and set for at least 4 hours. Overnight is best! I like it with coffee in the morning.

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A collection of thoughts in a hot, hot summer.

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Everybody told us Missoula would be hotter than Helena. We laughed it off, sure that we would be fine with fans, ice packs, and spirit. Instead, this summer has been one of the hottest in the last sixty years. The heat starts early, seeping in through the open windows which I shut vigorously every morning. It lingers far longer than it should, an impolite guest that traps us in our homes, grumpy and disoriented. My appetite fades or I feel hungry at odd hours, and sleep escapes me frequently. I begin to loathe sunlight and the daytime and consider becoming nocturnal, except somewhere I read that being up at night and working at night fucks with your circadian rhythm and gives you higher likelihoods of getting certain cancers…but then again, at this point, doesn’t everything give you cancer?

At night we hear the train cars crash together as they move, a semi-apocalyptic sound that often shakes the house. We say it is like living on the edge of the world. When we had an earthquake a month back, I woke up because it felt like the trains but more intense. It felt like some primordial worm was crawling beneath the house on it’s way somewhere else..  Now, I often wake at an especially loud crash because differentiating between the rumble of train cars and the eerie sensation of an earthquake has blurred. An emergency kit is being made in my mind but no, we haven’t bought distilled water, flashlights, a medical kit, food, or any of the other recommend emergency things.

On Saturday night we went to see Alejandro Jodorowsky’s cult film El Topo. It was a mess of gore, dead animals, weird sexual themes, and beautiful, bleak desert. When we left the theatre, it was cold! The wind whipped and blew up my dress and I held it down, and we discussed how good it felt to actually be chilly. Goosebumps on my arms felt like a soft blanket, and I felt so much more alive than when the heat saps away my energy. We had a drink at Plonk outside, and the wind made the pages of the fancy menu flap and flutter. Nighttime is the only time I feel completely human again.

My state of unemployment weighs heavily all day, every day. The quiet, insistent pressure to be employed and working makes me feel like a worthless soul, even though in fact I am worthwhile, so goddamn worthwhile. Self care in these times is important. I treasure little things, like sharing lunch with Logan, listening to a good record while we make dinner, or having a moment outside early in the morning before the heat, smelling the outside smells, heavier with nighttime moisture that still lingers. Right now, there is a blackberry pie in the oven, it’s smell wafting throughout the house. WordPress keeps deleting my post, so here it is in messy, unedited form. I cannot wait to take out the pie and see the slightly browned crust, having wrestled with cold butter in flour and gathering blackberries while fending off wasps and other insects. It felt so satisfying to be able to make the pie with fruit from our backyard! I’ll be making a post about that soon. Until then, lovely readers!

 

 

 

 

Missoula moments

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Last night Logan and I floated the Clark Fork River on some industrial rubber tire tubes. We had a river bag with two beers and our car keys tied to his shoelaces. The water was warm, and the smoke-clouded sun shone deep gold and warm orange on the water’s surface. We floated under a bridge with a loud train rumbling over and it felt surreal to look at thousands of pounds of goods moving over our heads. Fish jumped ahead of us and we heard the river get loud and quiet and loud again, and we bobbed in and out of waves and currents.

Then, we heard it. The the most pathetic sounding, wobbly, unimpressive sound a bird has ever emitted: the cry of a bald eagle! Yes, ladies and gentleman, our regal national symbol, with it’s glorious white head, sharp beak, and piercing eyes that grace the cheesy tee shirts that live in at least half of Montana’s older white male population’s closets. The bald eagle, in fact, shrieks in a most undramatic, uninspiring way. We saw two immature bald eagles and what we thought may be their mum perched in the tall trees alongside the river.

As we floated on, eagles close by and the sun going down, I looked all around us, I thought, This is bliss. This is what it’s about. Where else on earth do I get to do this?

36248384036_345caacd08_c35895831730_4abb3bea5b_c36248389366_cbf48db76b_c This last week has been full of reminders to be kind to myself. The job search has been brutal so far, with resumes given in hand and online, with only silence or rejection so far. Summer has been hot, brutally so, making me loathe everything. Sleep is hard to come by often. And yet, things are good. Chelsea visited us for a few days, making delicious palomas in the kitchen and telling stories of her around the world journey she’d been on with her Kate the last six months. We tried a new brewery, made pizzas, went to Bernice’s Bakery and ate amazing baked goods and had excellent coffee. We went to Kettlehouse and I had the most incredible slow pour nitro amber ale (which yes, is a dramatic title, and the beer was dramatic and delicious).

Life moves so fast in the summer. Last summer was a blur like this one, too, with hectic trips to Yellowstone, barbecues outside, delicious meals and cold beer, but also looking at the date and shaking my head, wondering if it was really already August. Last year, though, there was the inevitable departure back to British Columbia, the goodbyes and the sadness, and this August there is none of that looming. It feels so good to not worry about a date in which I’ll cross the border to the North and leave behind loved ones.

So life continues here in the northwestern part of Montana, where fires rage in the mountains and eagles screech from the river shores, and I continue to apply for jobs and keep my chin up the best I can. A dopo, readers!

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Hike to Hidden Lake

35964873586_855a03e704_c35964872496_f265bba2df_c35195516913_c0ddae99fc_c35195513933_0bc71ddbd7_cI brought two canisters of bear spray with us and put them in an easily-reachable outside pocket on my pack. A few weeks back we had met up with some friends and one of them recalled being charged by a grizzly bear on their first day backpacking in Glacier, and how they hadn’t grabbed the bear spray fast enough. Luckily, the grizzly had merely done a bluff charge and veered off into the woods, away from them.

Not my idea of a good time, I thought, so I brought more than one canister. We also packed water, sunscreen, and snacks. As we got to the Logan Pass Visitor Center I checked that we had everything and got out. The parking lot was full, and the Center was swarmed with tourists, many in flip-flops, learning about this incredible part of the world.

As we walked on a trail behind the Center, somebody noted a mother grizzly bear with two cubs in the distance. I pulled out my binoculars and peered out, seeing her calmly making her away across a grassy knoll with her two cubs in tow. It was beautiful to see them from a safe distance, where we weren’t bothering her and she wasn’t making us nervous. What I do like about bears and most other wild creatures is that they, honestly, don’t want to hang out with us either. They want to mind their own business and go about surviving, something that in many parts of the world is harder due to human encroachment and climate change.

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We began hiking to Hidden Lake, but part of the trail was closed due to bear activity. There were enough people on the trail that my fears of encountering bears were mostly gone. Bears have an incredible sense of smell and the number of warm human bodies out and about would waft to any living animal like a red flag, because I bet you humans stink. 

As we hiked further, we encountered snow. Slushy, wet, slick snow! Logan marveled at the snow in July, and we trekked through it, trying not to slip or slide. As we hiked about a mile in, we saw our first mountain goat! We saw several more as we kept hiking. There were several on one of the boardwalks, determined to get to somewhere else, and so I moved off the boardwalk into the brush. While mountain goats aren’t massive, they’re still wild animals, and several of them had their kids with them, and I didn’t want to get in the way and cause them stress or make them nervous. It was incredible to see them so close, though, while they’re shedding their thick winter coats and looking shaggy. Their expressive faces and slow pace made it easy to stare. We get to share the world with so many natural things and as a human that makes me feel all the feels. We’re so destructive and polluting and unnatural in some ways and it’s amazing to be around things that are very different and humbling.

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The views at the end of the trail were amazing. Lush green valleys dotted with snow laid before us, while healthy looking, proud trees stood in thick groves. The bare rock of the mountains reached towards the sky and we all looked, silently, absorbing the beauty of everything. The air was cool and fresh and it felt good to inhale and smell the natural smells. Small, delicate flowers laid by the trail, showing off purple and yellow hues. Red slate rocks added blush to the landscape.

As we headed back, my mind buzzed with questions and my heart felt full. I bounded down through the snow quickly and as we got back to the car I felt absolutely exhausted and invigorated simultaneously.

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Beargrass & Coffee

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Beargrass and coffee might seem an odd combination but the two go hand in hand as part of a great day.

Beargrass is a funny looking flower that often thrives in burn areas here in northern Montana and it’s one of the signature sights in Glacier. We found a thriving patch and I went right ahead and stuck my nose in the blooms (they smell heavy, musky, and wonderful). Beargrass is one of those things that in my mind define Montana in the summer. It rewards hikers deep in many of our National Forests and it always looks a bit odd in a Tim Burton-esque way. Nature really is the world’s greatest designer, and if you don’t agree we need to have a good chat.

We started off the morning having coffee and breakfast at the Swiftcreek Cafe in Whitefish. Chelsea helped me make the coffee images by pouring the cream while I photographed and we devoured our food to prepare for a full day in the park. Logan didn’t like Whitefish, as it felt too “utopic” to him, and as I looked at the sleek, new, buildings built in “rustic” styles to attract out of state wealth, I agreed. We would later fully cement that idea as we stumbled into a nightclub with strobe lights sure to trigger seizures, nestled in this ski resort town. Montana, you’re full of the strangest surprises.

Alpine adventures in Rocky Mountain National Park

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As we drove up higher and higher I looked out and tried to not let my fear of heights wash over me. The trees were so regal and the cool air felt so good, and I tried to steel myself. My mother looked over nervously at me.

We were in Rocky Mountain National Park, up thousands of feet higher than the nearest town of Estes Park. We were driving the Trail Ridge Road and watching the landscape change as we climbed higher and higher. This was the park where my parents met and fell in love when they were in college and it felt very neat to be in their territory, where my mother and father used to rise at 4 am to get to the park to photograph bugling elk in the rising sunlight of autumn. Having parents who fell in love with each other because of their mutual love of the outdoors has its perks- you get to hear about cool stories like that one.

Up at the top of the road, we got out and hiked. At 11,000 feet, the air felt thinner, and we both had small headaches that would later bloom into larger ones due to the lesser amount of oxygen available up high. We were in the alpine region, where no trees grow, surrounded by delicate alpine flora and fat marmots who lazed on rocks posing like some weird animal Richard Burton. No doubt they were being fed by hapless idiots.

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On our way up some folks from Oklahoma stopped in the middle of the road, which is narrow and has little-to-no room for maneuvering, and proceeded to feet one of these fat marmots from the car and take pictures. My mother and I rolled our eyes and I wanted to get out, walk up to them, throw crumbs at them, and ask, “How do you like it?!”

Ahem…

Anyway. Being up so high was eerie in that you could see for what felt like miles. Miles of peaks, clouds, and valleys were all for the visually consuming, and I soaked it in. We saw a gorgeous bull elk in full, handsome velvet napping in a meadow, his red-gold head tucked into the flora. One man asked us if he was dead but we told him no, that elk nap and conserve energy and move about more in the evening and morning.

Eventually it was getting chilly, though thankfully without the strong winds that such areas are known for, and hopped into the car to go to a visitor’s center. We got to drink in even more spectacular views and then realized we were going to be late for dinner at my grandma’s house and left the park.

A too-brief glimpse into the incredible, fast-changing landscapes in that beautiful place.

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“How did you get my espresso machine?” (The Montana Folk Festival)

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If you haven’t watched “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” I highly recommend you make it a priority. Even though it got not-so-great ratings at the time, I find the film to be poignant, ridiculous, hilarious, and visually compelling in so many ways.

There is a building in Butte called the Hennessy Building. It is large, regal, grand, and recently restored. As we walked to it I told Logan we must go inside and steal an espresso machine, a nod to the film mentioned above. The annual Montana Folk Festival was in full swing around us, and we saw the streets full of warm bodies on a ridiculously hot day.

Usually Butte is a fairly cool place temperature (and other) wise. However, the town was so toasty that the asphalt on the streets was literally melting, so wheelbarrows full of sand were being carted around dutifully to keep people’s feet from sticking to the pavement. Nonetheless, thousands of people like ourselves reveled in the live music, delicious food stands, and people watching that Butte always affords. I saw old bikers, young hipsters, way too many infants without sound protection, and a general sampling of humanity.

The Montana Folk Festival this year brought us a marvelous Afro-Venezuelan group, Betsayda Machado y la Parranda del Clavo, to one of the stages. Venezuela is, pardon my language, a shit place to be right now, with triple-digit inflation, lack of basic medicines, and general upheaval, and as we listened to the amazing sounds of the group, I wondered what it was like back home, and how these musicians were doing, if they would return home to the awfulness, and what it must be like to be in an old mining town in Montana introducing us to their sounds. As we watched Logan told me the music reminded him of the music in Bahia, a northern state in Brazil, and he said that it felt “like home” with the heat, the sounds, and the colors.

Earlier that week as we listened to Montana Public Radio we got to hear the most amazing cover of “House of the Rising Sun” croon us as we made dinner. The musician in question who made this masterpiece was Doreen Ketchens, hailing from New Orleans, and we got to see her at the Folk Festival as well! She played the clarinet, her daughter played drums, and the music that rang around the old part of Butte from her stage gave me goosebumps, I swear! Something about the clarinet can make sounds that are eerie and tingling, and I loved hearing her play songs like “Minnie the Moocher” and other classics I had only heard from recordings decades old.

The heat ultimately defeated us, though. We took shelter in a few breweries and bars to escape the omnipresent film of sweat that covered us all. Butte’s bar scene is eclectic, and at one establishment the bartender sassed me aggressively for not ordering a double gin and tonic. “What is the point of being at the Folk Festival if you’re not getting folked up?!” he hissed at me, and I begged him to just give me a single, as I was not looking to be a plastered creature at 5pm. He finally gave in but I’m sure he thought I was pathetic- and definitely not from Butte, where drinking is a hyper-common hobby. The open-container law also allows residents to get drinks “to go” to enjoy as they go about their merry ways.

Overall, this year was a blast. Despite the heat and the sun and the swaths of people (and overpriced beer tickets- $5 for a tall boy of PBR is just a bit too much) I cannot say I regretted it one bit. We passed out later that evening thoroughly exhausted, and I was still humming Ms. Ketchen’s version of “House of the Rising Sun” at the end of it all.

Montana in the summer: A brief glimpse.

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Fishing, drinking local beer, hiking, noticing the little things: That’s what Montana summers are made of. (And scanning lots of film!)

I’ve been applying to jobs, finishing my thesis, and traveling a bit to see family in Colorado. We have been waging a battle against the heat with fans and windows thrown wide open at night, only to discover that the house still barely gets below 75 most days. Watering the grass seems silly when it’s almost 100F out and almost nothing will save the lawn, and our grass shrivels and roasts and looks less nice than the neighbors, but paying the water bill is a real thing.

The last few days have been spent outside in the sun and on the water and it has been marvelous. We spent two days in the northwestern part of the state and managed to get a full day of hiking and exploring in Glacier National Park. Logan and I got our second National Parks pass and I hope that we make it to Yellowstone this fall when the tourists leave and the leaves are quietly changing.

Plans, plans, plans. How is life so full of plans and yet almost none of them pan out? If you had told me six months ago that I would still be in Montana, I would have laughed. Yet, here we are, and to be honest I couldn’t be happier. Montana beckons and lures and cajoles my heart and soul and eyes (and camera lens!) unlike anywhere else.